It Ain’t Easy (. . . and it never has been)

These days, you can’t get too far in to a conversation related to publishing without hearing about the sad state of the industry: digital competition, shuttered bookstores, understaffed publishers, plunging profits. Where two or more writers are gathered, you can bet there is discussion about the difficulty of getting a novel published. How difficult!  How unfair!  How capricious! Suffice it to say, these are not the glory days, my friends.

Sometimes it feels like what’s the point of trying.

But lately I’ve starting thinking about things a little differently.  As a writer of historical fiction it is my “job” to try to understand the past in context. And I’ve come to the startling conclusion that IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN HARD.

A few cases in point:

  • Before the invention of the printing press (1450s) books were transcribed by hand–mostly by monks in candlelit abbeys.  If you weren’t a sacred writer, you could pretty much kiss a writing career goodbye.

  • Even after the printing press, only those who were wealthy and/or had considerable connections could get access to a publisher.  The presses themselves remained expensive and labor intensive for centuries.
  • During the Renaissance and up until the 19th Century, it was virtually impossible to be a woman and be published.
  • And even in more modern times, writers (like my beloved Flannery O’Connor) wrote manuscripts on a manual typewriter. Can you even imagine making revisions on typewriter?!?  No cutting and pasting documents in Word. I think that was even before the invention of Liquid Paper (click here for those of you to young to know what that is. meh).
  • Before Kinkos and the internet, writers had to send their precious manuscripts by U.S. Post and hope against hope that it was not lost or damaged in transit (ie. there were not computer programs to save documents).

Sooooo, yes, it ain’t easy, but it never has been.  Might as well sit down and write.

About elizabethcarden

A wife, mom and writer of historical fiction (but sadly, not of thank you notes).
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1 Response to It Ain’t Easy (. . . and it never has been)

  1. jojo says:

    Since reading this post, I’ve been thinking a lot about whether the practical difficulties of writing make a difference in the quality of what’s written.

    There must be writers who believe that there’s creative value in imposing some hurdle or strict format onto the practice of writing – like the rigors of iambic pentameter or the restrictions of haiku. Maybe forcing the mind to struggle with obstacles of format creates something more special? The “Old World” approach to winemaking seems to embrace a similar idea: Grapes should struggle (without the help of irrigation) to grow, and those grapes that can survive the struggle will be truly special.

    On the other hand, maybe our creative energy shouldn’t be restrained by anything. The Chinese writer and political activist Lu Xun criticized the use of the ancient Chinese characters, because he believed that the time it took to master and use them restrained the ablity of the Chinese people to express their thoughts in writing.

    Lately I’ve been struggling to make the adjustment required by the untimely death of my blackberry, replaced with an i-phone. The frustration of typing in this unfamiliar way sometimes causes me to say what I’m thinking in a different way – a sort of battle / collaboration with the auto-correct function. (In fairness, the blackberry was doing the same thing to me – in its last dying days, I lost the ability to use the letter “s.” As it happens, I don’t have a large enough vocabulary to express myself without s-words.)

    So does the struggle make the writer’s words better?

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